Explainers

Inside the house of tomorrow: Smart home explained

Take me to 2020!

Published

on

Ten years ago, smart homes belonged to the realm of science fiction. Back then, you would only see connected smart devices in TV shows like Black Mirror, rather than in cons and tradeshows.

Today, a connected household isn’t just a working theory; it’s already a reality pushed by the world’s leading tech brands. Common, everyday tasks can now be automated by artificial intelligence or simplified through voice commands.

We are living in a world where every device has a voice, whether it’s Alexa, Siri, Cortana, or the Google Assistant. While some anticipate the curiosities that the future will bring, some fear the rapid changes that a house from the future beckons.

Regardless of how you might feel about the future of futuristic abodes, living in one can still be a mystery, especially for the everyday homeowner. There are layers of tech to wade through. As with every house hunt, it’s time to take a tour of the house of tomorrow before you inevitably live in one.

Garage: letting the right one in

As you pull up into the driveway with your electric car, the garage door automatically opens to the sound of your voice. The lights go on to help you park. You climb out of the car and hook it up to the charging station on the wall.

As you head to the front door, the garage door closes behind you. The smart camera above the door detects who you are and notifies your family that you’ve arrived. The locks disengage, and you enter.

The most common elements of a smart home are those seen from the outside. If you live within a gated community, you’ve seen automatic gates open and close by themselves. You might’ve also seen electric vehicles roaming the streets already. They may be outside the house, but these machines have become essential to the smart home ecosystem. They’ve become extensions of your smart house that you can take with you wherever.

Even as you exit your garage, other smart devices are being fitted around your house. The Nest Cam IQ, for example, is a smart security camera that adds an extra oomph in security. It can record in HD, listen in on conversations, and detect familiar faces.

Having an integrated smart security system allows you to enter and exit your home without fussing with keychains and padlocks.

Living room: command center

Entering your house, you kiss your spouse hello, kick off your shoes, and watch a bit of TV before dinner. Just as you plop down onto your couch, you remember that your house security is still disabled. You ask Alexa to turn it on. You rest easy while watching the latest House of Cards episode.

The evolution of the smart home began in earnest with the living room. As it was the central hub of the entire house, the living room also became the center for the Internet of Things. The new smart home ecosystem coordinated everything from the lights to the TV to the security system — right from the comforts of your sofa.

Who hasn’t heard of a smart TV? The industry’s newest TVs integrate the internet to build a more comprehensive entertainment experience. From a device that connects to mere broadcast stations, the TV evolved to access a vast catalog of online entertainment. You could watch Netflix while searching for your favorite recipes on Google. The smart TV became the desktop of your living room.

As people spent more time interacting with their TVs, smart devices started installing themselves around the luxuries of the living room. While you’re watching a movie, you can change everything from the temperature to the lights without standing up or pausing the programming.

The Philips Hue, for example, takes control of your house’s lighting system. That’s not all. The smart bulb automates your lights’ operation for both when you’re in and out of the house. It can even change a room’s hue to set the mood.

Another example is the Ecobee 3 smart thermostat. The automated system optimizes the temperature based on your activity inside and on the temperature outside. Further, it also makes your energy usage more efficient.

Kitchen: robots get hungry, too

As you open your fridge, a voice lists down the food you have in stock. Knowing how much pasta and olive oil you have left, the voice assistant suggests pesto for dinner. You agree. Alexa, then, preheats the oven for the pasta and preps your dishwasher for the oily dishes later.

Despite the oodles of devices inside a kitchen, tech makers are only starting to optimize the room for the smart home. LG, for example, launched a series of devices that assist you even before you start preparing the dish.

Their smart refrigerator catalogs the supplies you have left. It alerts you when you’re short of ingredients and recommends recipes based on what’s inside. Plus, it even has its own entertainment system to get your groove on while you cook.

After you gather all the ingredients, the system passes the recipe down to the appliances you’ll need. A smart oven preheats to fit the temperature you need; a smart dishwasher customizes its spin cycles to wash dishes optimally.

Bedroom: the last frontier

The day is over. Before you drift off to sleep, you remember to charge your devices — iPhone X, Apple Watch — on the wireless charging stand. You set Google Home to wake you up at 7am by playing a Rihanna song.

The bedroom is the last frontier of the home of tomorrow. The bed is the last sanctuary from a life taken over by tech. That, however, won’t last. As early as now, the Internet of Things follows you even to the bedroom.

Wireless charging stations, smart thermostat panels, and security panels pervade our bedrooms, allowing us easy access to how our house works before we call it a night. A smart bed is still forthcoming, but technology is already reaching out before it inevitably comes.

With Google Home and Amazon Echo, voice assistants now lull us to sleep and wake us up in the morning. Alexa, Siri, Google Assistant, and Cortana will become the first and last voices we hear every day. The eerily human voice assistants have already lent their voices to every device in our home.

It’s only a matter of time before our house becomes a machine itself. Whether you embrace the future or shun it, technology will always find a way to make our lives easier. But don’t worry when it comes. All you’ll hear is the soothing voice of Alexa, asking how you want your meat cooked.

Illustrations by MJ Jucutan

Explainers

The importance of artificial intelligence in smartphones

Is this still the future of technology?

Published

on

Have you ever wondered what smartphone brands actually mean when they tell you that their cameras use artificial intelligence (AI)?

With AI now becoming a significant part of our daily lives, we start to look into how this technology found its way into the market, and see whether or not AI truly is the future.

What is Artificial Intelligence?

Artificial intelligence, or AI for short, is a not-so-fairly new concept in the world of technology. What it basically means is that machines are given human-like intelligence through a system of information and programs or applications that are built into machines.

Machines with AI built inside can perform a variety of tasks mostly observed through human intuition like problem solving, gathering knowledge, and logical reasoning — among others. It’s basically making machines smarter and, in a way, more human-like.

Illustrations by Kimchi Lee

AI has been a part of many devices over the past few years, from smart homes to applications on your smartphone. Companies like Amazon and Google have come up with smart home devices that assist people with their day-to-day tasks such as Alexa and Google Assistant.

Businesses with online presence through company websites have also integrated chat boxes and online assistance bots that automatically answer any customer concerns depending on the information given.

How AI found its way to smartphones

Artificial intelligence was often associated with creating robots to perform human-like functions at a much faster, more efficient rate — which is heavily portrayed on mainstream media. Through AI, these machines learn more about the environment they’re in, and carefully adjust to meet the needs of the users. Such a process is called machine learning.

Nowadays, machine learning isn’t just limited to AI robots that learn what people are doing, but has now branched out to what people are thinking, inquiring about, and saying to other people. AI has slowly made its way into other devices that are much more accessible to us, primarily through the internet.

Machine learning is now incorporated into smart home devices, online video streaming websites like YouTube and Netflix, social media websites such as Facebook and Twitter; basically, the technology behind AI constantly learns more about people, their interests, and day-to-day activities.

The newest member of AI-integrated devices are smartphones themselves. Companies like Apple and Google have looked into integrating AI into the processors of their flagship phones — the iPhone and Pixel series, respectively. Early 2018 saw most Android smartphone brands integrate AI within their phones as a way of enhancing the user experience even further; Huawei and ASUS released their new flagship phone lines with their cameras utilizing AI for smarter responses to the environment around the user.

It’s quite possible that smartphones could very well lead the transition of all devices towards machine learning and AI in the near future.

Smartphones with AI

As mentioned, two companies have integrated AI into their smartphones to provide enhanced user experiences in a totally different way. One of these companies is ASUS, with their recently released ZenFone 5 series of smartphones with cameras powered by AI. Its shooters focus primarily on taking better photos and adjusting to the environment around you. The ZenFone 5’s AI Photo Learning allows the phone to learn how you like your photos and adjust the settings accordingly so you don’t have to.

Apart from its cameras, the ZenFone 5 series uses AI to boost overall performance. The base model is powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 636 processor, which enables the full utilization of AI features on the phone. The AI Boost technology allows the handset to have an instant hit in performance when running heavy-duty applications and games. Of course, AI in the ZenFone 5 also predicts which apps you will use next and learns which apps you use regularly.

Another company that integrates AI in its smartphones is Huawei, with the Mate 10 and P20 series. They’re powered by the Kirin 970 processor — which boosts overall performance and efficiency using integrated AI. This means that the phones will adjust to how much you use them and maximize performance every step of the way. They also come with Huawei’s EMUI 8.0 with its own set of AI features such as Smart Screen for multitasking and real-time translation during calls.

Much like the ZenFone 5, the Huawei Mate 10 and P20 phones also have cameras powered by AI. This powers the phones’ dual-lens camera setups for scene and object recognition, automatically adjusting the camera’s settings to suit the situation. Huawei also emphasizes producing professional-grade photos by allowing the AI to adjust the camera’s focus on the subject. That way, you are able to achieve a perfect-looking selfie or portrait — without the need to manually adjust the settings for a long period of time.

What we get from AI

Artificial intelligence opens up many opportunities for technology to be like humans in terms of processing thoughts and insights. What AI does is it allows machines to learn more about humans and tailor-fits its processes and capabilities to match us, from search engines to smarter applications. When treated properly, AI can actually deliver better and more efficient ways of dealing with the problems people face almost every single day.

The only downside is AI has the potential to even invade one’s privacy, especially through one’s smartphone. Because the technology is constantly learning more about its user through his or her devices, this opens the door for the data to be retrieved by, quite literally, anyone on the internet.

Because people nowadays access their smartphones almost every chance they get, people who truly know how AI works have the potential to abuse what they know and use it for their own personal gain, either through malicious activities like cyberstalking and cyberbullying, or online attacks like hacking or phishing.

The future of AI

2018 is looking like the year of AI with the unveiling of smartphones and revamped smart devices to upgrade the user experience. The possibilities for artificial intelligence are endless, given its wide usage across any available platform.

For now, it’s intelligent cameras on your smartphones that adjust settings for you to save the hassle of getting the perfect image. Some time in the future, AI could very well exist even on a gaming controller or mirrorless camera to adjust to your needs. However, we have to be aware about the dangers of using AI to its fullest as it can also lead to our own careless actions.

Indeed, the future is bright for artificial intelligence — as long as we use it for the right reasons.

Continue Reading

Explainers

Setting the VAR: Football’s newest technology

And where better to shine than the 2018 FIFA World Cup

Published

on

The 2018 FIFA World Cup is in full swing, with the last few matches about to take place en route to the Round of 16 on Saturday. While the world’s greatest football players are taking center stage, another main attraction in the tournament is the football world’s latest technology: the Video Assistant Referee.

The Video Assistant Referee or VAR has been adopted in sports like tennis and rugby, and recently by football leagues such as the English FA Cup and the Bundesliga in Germany. Ideally, the VAR helps make decisions for referees much easier and more accurate — especially for crucial, game-changing calls. But is the technology useful and helpful in every possible way?

Illustrations from FIFA.com

What is the VAR?

The VAR is a video system that feeds information to referees on the pitch through a wireless earpiece. Assistant referees  gather the information away from the stadium and forward these to the referees when a call is contested. The VAR marks the huge step football leagues are taking to digitize football, and has been used since last year.

It utilizes a goal line technology that allows the cameras in the stadium to scan the pitch at every minute. With this technology, movement on the pitch is detected at all possible angles and calls can be made more precisely. Assistant referees inside a control room have access to all these cameras and they send live feed to the pitch via tablet or iPad should the referees want to look at the footage themselves.

The VAR reviews game-changing calls on the football pitch at the time a protest is filed. FIFA lists only four game-changing calls to be considered: goals, penalties, direct red card incidents, and mistaken identity. The VAR checks the validity of these calls and sends the information to the referees. Do note, however, that the referees themselves still have the final decision on what call to make.

The system made its debut in a FIFA Club World Cup in December 2017 between Atletico Nacional and Kashima Antlers. The referee rewarded Kashima with a penalty after reviewing a play inside the penalty box.

Putting the VAR to work

2017 also saw the VAR’s debut in the English FA Cup, but it had its own set of controversies along the way. During a quarterfinal match between Tottenham and Rochdale, a goal by Tottenham was reversed for unclear reasons cited by the VAR. German football league Bundesliga also utilized the VAR during its latest season, but received mixed reactions from players and fans.

In the 2018 FIFA World Cup, the VAR takes center stage as a decision-making aide for referees in the group stages. The first instance was a non-call on a foul by Spain’s Diego Costa in their 3-3 epic against Portugal. Costa would slice the Portugese defense to tie the game at 1-1 at the time, but did so while taking down Pepe from Portugal. After the review from the VAR, the referee stood by his decision to count the goal.

The second instance happened in the France-Australia game when French striker Antoine Griezmann was tackled inside the box, yet the referee called for play to continue. Griezmann received a pass from Paul Pogba, and virtually blitzed through the Socceroo’s defensive line. Griezmann was awarded the penalty after reviewing footage from the VAR as the French went on to win, 2-1.

The third instance was in the Peru-Denmark game when another penalty was awarded to Christian Cuerva of Peru. Denmark’s Yussuf Poulsen tackled the Peruvian in the box, yet the referee called for the play to continue until the incident was reviewed via VAR. However, Cuerva missed the penalty and Poulsen scored in another possession to give the Danish the win, 1-0.

A VAR too high or too low?

While the VAR has only been around for well over a year, it isn’t exempt from both praise and criticism. Many people have shown their praises for the newest technology applied to the football world. The VAR now adds certainty and legitimacy to calls made by referees during matches, instead of them making the same wrong call every time. With football players and managers focusing on the tiniest of details to improve their game, information from the VAR becomes important.

The VAR provides an opportunity for football games to be fair and balanced. Referees now have different vantage points to look at when making calls that ultimately change the outcome of the game. People came to see a quality match wherein the players truly shine, but sometimes the referee’s poor decisions hamper that. In this regard, there is no excuse for not making the right decision with all the video evidence available.

However, a lot of people also have strong feelings against using VAR. While the effort to make the right calls is appreciated, it gets in the way of what makes football so special. When referees call for the VAR — especially with contested goals — fans become anxious instead of jubillant. Usually, fans go into a frenzy the moment the ball goes through the net — no replays needed. It’s as if the game feels all too unrealistic because of all the technicalities.

For football players and coaches, the VAR only adds confusion to fans. Because some football stadiums are built without any big screens, fans become unaware of what’s happening when the referee calls for the VAR. Iran’s coach Carlos Queiroz lambasted the use of the VAR for close, judgment calls — particularly the offside call on his squad in a loss to Spain. He believes that the VAR was put in place to correct obvious mistakes by referees, not debatable calls.

Photo from FIFA.com

Final verdict

The VAR is a fairly new technology introduced in the world of football, and surely, it’s not perfect. It’s a bold take on digitalizing football, keeping up with the technological demands of today. Because football is decided by people making the right calls at the right time, the VAR becomes an important part in establishing the basis for such calls. The VAR is a useful solution for referees to make the right decisions on the pitch.

However, we must be critical about how the VAR should play in during very crucial moments in the game. The VAR should help give fans a fair yet exciting football match without losing its spirit. With the Round of 16 coming up, all eyes will be on the VAR and whether it will help make the road to the finals interesting or not.

At the end of the day, football fans came to see the best players in the world do what they do best, and no amount of technology should get in the way of that.

Continue Reading

Explainers

Why do Android updates arrive so late?

And what Google has been doing to solve it

Published

on

With new devices popping up left and right, more and more people now have access to the latest Android operating system (OS) and its technologies. From artificial intelligence (AI)-powered cameras to smoother, simpler designs to the user interface, Android has been looking to attract more users to its platform over the past few years.

However, there are consumers who own or wish to buy cheaper devices that still unfortunately use the older versions of Android, and wonder if they get to experience the new updates for themselves — only for them to realize that it’s the end of the line for their gadgets.

Updates arrive slower, mostly in small parts, and sometimes the entire OS cannot be upgraded any further. The questions Android developers have been facing from consumers within the last few years are these: Why do updates arrive so late, and what is Google doing about it?

The Android way

The Android operating system is one big, open-source platform for developers and manufacturers. This means that they are given the liberty to modify such software to introduce and improve their products. Android smartphone companies are able to set themselves apart from the others mostly because of this approach towards the unique interfaces.

According to Google’s Android Developers website, 63.2 percent of Android devices in the market run on older Android systems than Android 7.0 Nougat; manufacturers opt to sell their devices with much older software due to their insistence of applying their own Android “skins” or their own version of the OS.

Companies such as Xiaomi, Samsung, Huawei, and ASUS customize the Android operating systems to give users a unique experience when using their devices. Xiaomi’s MIUI 10 and Samsung’s Experience bring new features for AI and major redesigns for their latest smartphones. ASUS’ ZenUI offers features that support the gaming capabilities of their smartphones, while Huawei’s EMUI allows you to sync your LinkedIn account to your address book.

Implementing such skins either limits the number of updates the device receives, or it makes the gadget no longer upgradeable. This is how Android fragmentation works, and unfortunately, is also the reason you can’t get your older Android device to upgrade to the latest software easily.

People were excited when several companies announced which smartphones would receive an upgrade to Android 8.0 Oreo over the past few months. However, only about six percent of devices have the update ready for users either due to delays in the rollout or because of bugs that affected the device’s performance.

Android fragmentation has become a problem for third-party developers, especially those who were hoping to use the newer and more updated software to create better games and utility apps for people. Because of fragmentation, developers are limited to the older and less secure versions of Android, as well as the codes and programs that come with it.

The applications these developers make are not guaranteed to work without encountering problems along the way. The late arrival of updates hampers the developers’ ability to make any changes to their applications, and even put the user’s safety at risk.

Google’s plan of action

At present, the developers at Google did a number of projects for updates to arrive faster and all at once for third-party developers and phone manufacturers.

They came up with pure Android software known as Android One, and they encouraged device manufacturers to create smartphones using the Android One OS. Android One became Google’s standard for manufacturers and developers to use in their new devices and applications. With smartphones incorporating Android One, updates become more regular and can be streamlined across multiple devices all at once.

Android One was already available on a few devices since its initial launch in 2014, from the Cherry Mobile G1 to the Xiaomi Mi A1. However, the pure Android OS disappeared for a while because the software itself gave no freedom for manufactures to differentiate themselves. Eventually, Android One found itself back in the market with Nokia spearheading the effort to reintroduce it with the likes of the well-received Nokia 7 Plus.

Don’t confuse Android One with Android Go, Google’s cut-down version of its Android OS, however. While Android One is the standard Android software Google wants to apply across all devices, Android Go is designed for entry-level devices. Devices running Android Go will be able to maximize storage options and mobile data management for you, so you will be able to do many things with your phone without worrying about space and data consumption.

The latest experiment: Project Treble

Another project undertaken by Google to address the fragmentation issue is Project Treble. Project Treble is a service offered to users to help streamline the process of updating their software to the latest version from Android, and is currently offered to devices that have Android Oreo installed out of the box.

What Project Treble does is that it allows manufacturers to deliver the updates themselves, without having to go through long and expensive processes to deliver them. This also allows developers themselves to create applications using new codes and programs provided by the Android software.

Following Project Treble was the release of the beta version for Android P. Like in previous iterations, Google did this so developers can already work on their own software-specific applications and technologies that fit the profile Android P brings to the table. Of course, the beta version is still only available to a select number of companies working on new devices, but it will be available across all devices once a final version is released.

Initially, Project Treble and Android P Beta were only available on Google’s Pixel phones, but they’ve now branched out to non-Pixel phones, as well. Treble is available for all new devices that have Android Oreo pre-installed, so developers can experience Android P Beta and work around the new software. A list of devices that already support Android P Beta can be found here and on Android’s Developer website.

What’s next for Android?

With Project Treble and Android continuously bringing updates to the platform faster to consumers, Google is hoping to have just one centralized operating system in the future. Over the past year, Google has been working on Fuchsia, designed to be the central operating system that is potentially going to replace both Chrome OS and Android in the near future. Fuchsia is expected to further streamline updates as a way of fighting Android fragmentation.

Android P is still in its beta version as of writing, meaning that Google is getting feedback from companies that have devices already powered or tested using the latest Android software over the past few months. Google is constantly working on better and faster ways for software updates to reach Android devices, provided that such devices have the necessary hardware to accommodate the upgrades.

For third-party developers, Google has even made their services more accessible to older Android devices. Recently, it gave older devices access to the company’s virtual assistant service, Google Assistant, as long as these devices were running at least an Android 5.0 Lollipop system.

With all these developments for Android, it’s safe to say that Google has done what it can to address the issue on updates arriving so late, so don’t worry if your phone is still running on an older Android OS, because Google hasn’t forgotten you.

Illustrations by Yanni Panesa

Continue Reading

Trending